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San Diego Climate Report Shows Progress — Thanks To Whom?

Milan Kovacevic
The city of San Diego is shown in this undated photo.
City Officials To Announce San Diego Ahead Of Schedule In Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goal
City Officials To Announce San Diego Ahead Of Schedule In Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goal GUEST:Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, October 25. Our top story a midday edition San Diego gets their yearly report card on the city's climate action plan today because the big reductions in carbon emissions and water use the city got high marks on last year's report card for being ahead of schedule. This year that trend seems to be holding but there are major hurdles and big decisions ahead for the city as they try to achieve the goals of cutting greenhouse emissions in half. Joining me is Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News. What were the big takeaways from this report card?The city has made small progress in the calendar year of 2016 compared to the year before. This does measure 2016 the last year's report was 2015. There's a bit of lag. Last year's greenhouse gas emissions were 2% lower than the year before. A lot of the progress has been made with low hanging fruit and there are a lot of hard choices ahead.Low hanging fruit is that the state and federal mandates that the city has to comply with?That is right. The city has not been able to demonstrate the effects of local policies on the overall carbon footprint. A lot of the progress in 2016 came from energy efficiency, water conservation. Those are not because of any policy that they have implemented. The city has led by example in some areas and bought some dump trucks that are powered by natural gas, which is more efficient than traditional vehicles. They bought hybrid cars. Those things make for a good media coverage but they don't have a impact on the footprint.It calls for the city to use 1% renewable energy by 2035. Reaching that goal may depend on the city switching to community choice energy. Remind us where we are on the effort?Committee choice would allow the city to choose where the energy comes from. The city conducted a feasibility study which found that the city could offer cheaper and greener energy if it implemented a committee choice program then SDG&E . They will make a decision on whether to move forward in January. I know the mayor is being lobbied by San Diego Gas & Electric parent company. I saw two lobbyists who were working for the marketing and lobbying district in the waiting room so there are forces at work that are calling on the city and the mayor to slow down and not make a decision next year on community choice. They've questioned the validity of this study and I asked the mayor are you comfortable and confident. He did not give me a clear answer.Another goal is to get half of all commuters that live within a half-mile of a major transit stop to bike, walk or take mass transit to work. In this report card today, was there any update on those numbers?Not exactly. The city doesn't have a way to measure how many people are biking, walking or riding public transit. Overall we know that the trend in public transit is that it's going down. We have reports from the city on the number of I clean miles on it been improved are added to the network. There is not a measure yet on how effective those policies have been. The city is fair to say that they're going to have some really big challenges meeting the transportation goals. That's very problematic because transportation is the biggest source of in house gas emissions in the city. Today the press conference was held at the city operation yard and as we were driving into the press conference, we passed this massive parking lot that was full of cars that were driven there by the employees of the city. The city has a long way to go in terms of getting out of cars.What are the other big obstacles to meeting the plan contractI think money is a big one. We were talking about the new contact with the police union worker that's going to cost $66 million over the next two years. This year was a very hard budget year. They had to fight for funding for urban forestry planting and maintaining her trees. Infrastructure lacks more than $1 billion and a lot of the questions about greenhouse gas emissions have to do with infrastructure. We have not really heard a lot of discussion today about how they will actually pay for all of the needs in the climate plan.What other thing should we be watching to see progress is being made on the climate plan?One thing is Sandag. They are kicking off their development of the long-range regional transportation plan that is supposed to be passed in 2019. The mayor has been fairly absent from Sandag board meetings. He is a member but he does not attend. I think it's -- one thing that I'm going to be looking at is how interested is the mayor and being a part of these discussions in terms of the long range transportation network of San Diego county. Will he take the lead and advocate for mass transit? Will he take a backseat? I think that is something to watch in the coming months.I've been speaking with Angie about when. Thank you.Thank you. --

San Diego Climate Report Shows Progress — Thanks To Whom?
San Diego's annual Climate Action Plan monitoring report shows the city is still ahead of schedule in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But there is little indication city policies are contributing to the success.

San Diego remains ahead of schedule in meeting the goals of its landmark Climate Action Plan, according to a progress report released by city officials Wednesday.


The annual report found greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were about two percent lower than 2015, and 19 percent lower than the climate plan's baseline year of 2010. Mayor Kevin Faulconer praised San Diegans for their efforts to conserve water and energy, and for leading the nation in the installation of rooftop solar panels.

"This is steady progress that shows the actions that we are taking collectively as a city are making a difference," he said at a news conference announcing the report.

RELATED: San Diego City Employees Lead On Public Transit, Lag On Bikes

The report attributed most of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to state and federal programs — something that was true for last year's progress report as well. Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said there is more officials could be doing to reduce the city's carbon footprint.

"We're grateful that the mayor has taken some steps in the right direction," Capretz said. "But given the scope and scale of the climate crisis, and what kind of future we are confronting, we need bolder, quicker action."


San Diego is facing several major decisions in the coming months and years that could pave the way for the climate plan's success or failure. One is the decision on whether to adopt community choice aggregation (CCA), a program that would allow city officials to choose where San Diegans get their energy.

A peer-reviewed study released this summer found a CCA program could offer cheaper and greener electricity than SDG&E. The City Council is scheduled to decide whether to move forward with community choice in January.

Another factor that could influence the city's climate action success is the development of the 2019 Regional Transportation Plan. The plan, crafted by the San Diego Association of Governments, determines how much the county will invest in low-carbon transportation options like public transit and bicycling versus car-focused infrastructure like freeways and roads.

Transportation, which accounts for 54 percent of San Diego's greenhouse gas emissions, is one area where the city faces extreme challenges in reducing its carbon footprint.

The climate plan envisions half of all San Diegans who live in so-called "transit priority areas" getting to work via biking, walking or riding public transit by 2035. But transit ridership has been on the decline for the past two years, and city officials have no good data on how many commuters are biking or walking to work.

The challenges San Diego faces in reducing car dependence were in plain sight at the city operations yard where the mayor held his press conference: The employee parking lot was full of cars.

Kris Arciaga
Cars fill a city employee parking lot at the Chollas Operations Yard, Oct. 25, 2017.